Brooklyn politician Eric Adams has spent $20,000 in campaign funds to erect six giant billboards in Brooklyn and Queens promoting his “Stop the Sag!” campaign.
Thankfully, many people are seeing the ridiculousness of this campaign but one of my favorite quotes is by hip hop impresario Russell Simmons. You can see the full quote here:
There is no connection to saggy pants and the ability to succeed. Just look at what buttoned-up America has done to the rest of the world and each other.
Simmons, of course, is absolutely right. What gets glossed over in the campaign’s pithy slogan that “raising your pants” is simultaneously a move in “raising your self-respect” is the racialization of style and the pathologization of young men of color, who are imagined to be lacking in self-respect. And as we know from the self-help makeover culture we live in now, self-respect is believed to be the root of a multitude of social problems: obesity (watch just 15 minutes of Jillian’s proselytizing on The Biggest Loser if you need proof), teen sex (see: Dr. Phil), and yes, consumerism.
I’m not saying that a lack of self-respect isn’t ever motivating our behaviors but style choices and self-respect or the ability to succeed are not causally related. And saying they are is tantamount to racial-sartorial profiling. If there was a causal relation, my little sister who wore size 42 jeans nearly every day of her college and med school life – she fits into a size 6 dress – would not be the head of Anesthesia at UCSF hospital. (By the way, she’s still sagging today but mostly in her scrubs.)
5 responses to “Fashion Policing New York City”
That’s what I get for leaving a draft about this campaign in the hopper for too long…
I really liked what Russell Simmons said about baggy pants. I’m glad he’s giving a rebuttal (pun intended)? on the subject. It’s just too bad that the person who was against the saggy pants was black, so we have this black on black fighting thing we’ve seen way too often. There’s so much to say about saggy pants. First it is a statement of defiance, it does come from prison culture and it is often times a signifier for someone wanted to be seen as tough or “street”. But it shouldn’t be a deterrent for success, but it can be. If you are sagging your pants to an interview most likely you won’t be hired. The argument could go on endlessly, it’s really both sides of the same coin- A marginalized people trying to establish themselves either by playing by the rules or acting against them.
So….I’m ambivalent. On the one hand, I think that young people of color, especially young black and Latino men, are constantly pathologized and that normal, routine youthful exploration, rule-breaking and pushback are constantly regarded and criminal, antisocial, etc. I dislike this type of sermonizing and the ongoing narrative of black boys as ‘in crisis.’
On the other hand, I think there is something to what Eric Adams is saying. Sagging jeans are, on one level, just a sartorial choice. On another level I think they are a symptom of a dysfunctional urban-cum-hip hop culture that prides itself on being threatening, hypersexual and regressively macho. I recently found myself in close proximity to several young men who were ‘sagging’ as we all waited to be buzzed into the vestibule of an apartment building here in Brooklyn. It was, frankly, a threatening experience to be surrounded by men who are in public partially dressed. And I wonder…Isn’t that the point of sagging to a large extent? They didn’t speak to me but their conversation included several references to apparently exasperating women who they called ‘b*tches’ and ‘h*s’, while they repeatedly addressed each other as ‘n-gga’ and yes, the whole scene did seem to me, to be a acting out of lowered values and lack of respect for themselves and everyone around them.
I don’t think this is about curtailing the freedoms of young black people, especially from Eric Adams’ perspective. I think that it is about curtailing the culture of contempt that is rotting low income, inner city neighborhoods, the ‘I don’t give a f–‘ (that you heard me utter a sexual or racial slur, that I don’t go to school, that I don’t have any feasible plan for my life, that I don’t see or support my kids, that I’m employed in the grey or black markets) ethos that sagging at least sometimes connotes.
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